Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

August 12, 2018

Lessons:

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

l three Synoptic Gospels – so, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke – Jesus tells us that he is bread. We repeat his words, we pray them together, when we celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday morning. Jesus holds out the bread and he says to his friends:

Take, eat. This is my body.

Somehow – impossibly, amazingly – Jesus says, this is me.

It is only in the fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, that Jesus adds modifiers when he speaks of bread and of himself and of how he is bread. In John he tells us that he is the bread that came down from heaven, that he is the bread of God, or maybe most famously – we’re going to sing the beloved hymn later on – that he is the bread of life.

At the risk of stating something linguistically obvious, the purpose of a modifier is to add or restrict the meaning of a noun. We don’t use modifiers if there is nothing to add, nothing to modify. If you went to a restaurant and the server brought you a glass of water, it would be very odd indeed if they placed the glass on the table and said:

This is the water of wetness.

As opposed to what?

What we may deduce from Jesus in the Gospel of John is that, by linguistic necessity, there is bread that does not come down from heaven, bread that is not of God, bread that is not of life. We may deduce that there is bread of death.

Huh.

What might this bread of death be? Or to put that another way, what is the bread that isn’t Jesus? Now, maybe his question – bread of life versus bread of death – is a super mystical idea, wildly esoteric, more than we can possibly encounter or understand. Jesus as we find him in John is certainly capable of speaking in pretty seriously mystical language.

But maybe this is isn’t mystical at all.

Maybe this is as everyday as we can possibly get.

One of the rules about being human and being alive is that we must eat. Unlike other forms of life on this earth, we are not designed to function through water and photosynthesis, we cannot turn the rays of the sun directly into our food. And the example of Jesus is that eating is generally a good and joyful thing – to read the Bible is to encounter a Messiah who is constantly sharing meals with strangers and friends and who delights in doing so.

More broadly still than eating, one of the rules about being human and being alive is that we must consume. It is necessary for us to put on clothes in order to survive the elements and to meet social expectations, it is probably necessary for us to live indoors. And while we may debate their necessity, most of us like the convenience and comfort that comes from having access to a washer and a drier, to a car, to a stove, to a computer, the list goes on.

What if Jesus is telling us that there is a way of eating, of consuming, that is congruent with discipleship, that is Christ-like in nature, that follows the example of Jesus, that is of life. And by contrast, there is way of eating, of consuming, that is incongruent with discipleship, this is not Christ-like in nature, that is out of step with the example of Jesus, that is of death.

Maybe what Jesus is saying is that when you and I consume – and today we mostly do that by spending money as opposed to, say, harvesting a crop or slaughtering an animal that we have raised ourselves – we are by definition making a moral decision. How we choose to consume, in ways small and large, in ways bad and good, shapes reality; not just for ourselves, but for other people, and for creation.

You and I have a big disadvantage in this moral decision making versus Jesus and his friends. First, we have a disadvantage because, we live in a globalised context; when we buy a banana in Portland, we are shaping reality in Central America and the Caribbean; when we buy an iPhone, we are shaping reality in China; when we consume fossil fuels and petroleum products, we are shaping reality across the world. (I don’t know how many Facebook friends in how many different cities have posted over the last few days about stifling and often record-breaking heat in the places where they live.)

For most human beings across most of history, if they wondered about the working conditions under which, say, their horseshoes were made, they could go down to the blacksmith and see. That’s largely unavailable to us – the scale on which we operate is enormous. We just have to take other folks’ assurances that our consciences would feel okay if we visited the planation where our bananas grow.

Second, you and I are rich. Now, I appreciate that not all of us in this room feel rich. But by global standards, by historical standards, 90 or possibly 100 percent of us in this room are wealthy. If you are not wondering where your next meal is coming from, where you will sleep this night, if you can get health care when you need it, if potable water comes out of your tap, you are kind of rich. And the problem for us rich folks is that we have so many more opportunities to buy stuff than the poor and, therefore, we have so many more opportunities to buy the bread of death.

Jesus and his friends have all but nothing – remember when he sends out his disciples to proclaim the Gospel, he tells them to pack light. And packing light for these folks means, among other things, not to take two tunics. These are people, in other words, who, when they are living large, have one change of clothes. Who knows how many changes of clothes I have in my closet at home? Certainly more than two. And when I look at the labels sewn into the collar, labels that explain that my clothes are made in countries that I have never been to under working conditions that, maybe, I don’t want to think about, I wonder: Am I eating the bread of death?

There may be a good reason that Jesus, in one of his most arresting images, says that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to get into heaven.

Now, one of the few stories that appears in all four Gospels is the story that we call the Loaves and the Fishes – in a couple of the Gospel, it actually appears twice.

That tells us that it might be important for understanding who Jesus is, that it might be important for understanding what the bread of life is.

Most of you know the story. It goes something like this: Jesus and his friends are hanging out outside, and a big crowd has come to hear Jesus talk. Suppertime rolls around and folks start to get hungry, possibly even hangry. And the disciples come to Jesus and they say: Send the people away, tell them that they are on their own for dinner. We only have enough to feed ourselves, just a couple of fish and a few loaves.

But Jesus says: You feed them.

And so they do. And once everyone is full, there are leftovers.

There are no fewer than two miracles here. The obvious one, is that the food multiplies. The less obvious miracle, but the one that may be just as big, is that the disciples hearts are transformed. The disciples start the story in a place that you and I probably recognise, a place that consumerism really encourages to hang out in. This is the place of scarcity, of anxious selfishness, in which our dominant narrative says: There’s not enough. What if I run out?

By the end of the story, the disciples have been changed. They have been transformed by witnessing, by participating in, holy abundance. They have eaten the bread of life. And they have shared it with others.

Friends, there is bad news and there is good news.

The bad news is that choosing to eat the bread of life is a choice to change and to be changed. bread of life involves sacrifice.

I’ve heard folks argue that we can lick global warming, but that doing so is going to require most of the earth’s population to go vegan. I don’t know how much I like that idea; I don’t eat a tonne of meat, but I love a good hamburger every now and again, and the idea of a world without chees and cream kind of makes me sad. I’ve heard folks argue that there is no reason that any worker in our country should not be receiving a living wage, enough to live indoors and not worry about food and have access to health care and enjoy some recreation, but that economic justice might mean the stocks in my portfolio are not quite as valuable as they are now. I don’t know how much I like the idea of that bottom line going down. I’ve heard contemporary prophets tell us that there can and will be a place of dignity and equality for those who have historically lived the margins. And while I nod in agreement, I am ashamed to admit that part of me isn’t sure how much it likes that idea either: I have gotten used to the privilege that comes of being straight and male and cisgender and white.

These are not sacrifices that you or I can outsource to someone else. They are mine to make, yours to make.

The good news – well, it comes at the end of the story of the Feeding of the 5000.

How do you imagine that the disciples feel in this moment? Are they angry? Are they cursing Jesus? Do they yell at Jesus, saying: We said that there wasn’t enough and then you made enough and, Jesus, you made us look stupid?

No.

They are joyous. They are amazed. They are set free. How good it must feel to put down the weight of the consumerist story that says that there isn’t enough, that I have to look out for myself, that this is a world of scarcity. How good it must feel to stand in community and, together, tell the story in which there is abundance, in which all of God’s children can thrive.

Jesus says: Take, eat. This is my body. Jesus says: I am the bread of life.  Whoever eats will never be hungry. Whoever believes will never thirst.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost by Holly Puckett

August 5, 2018

Lessons:

Exodus 16:2-4,9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

This week’s readings are about a lot of things, but here are the big picture parts that I’m going to focus in on: faith that God will provide, we are all tied together with unique gifts as separate parts of a whole (the body of Christ), and Christ is the bread of everlasting life.

In the Lord’s Prayer it says “give us this day our daily bread” – so, in light of these readings, what is our daily bread meant to be? Is our daily bread faith from God? Is our daily bread the body of Christ? What does that mean? 

What does God want all of his people to be doing every day? Take care of yourself – eating a good diet, sleeping enough, eliminating stress through prayer, meditation and connection to community, and having some level of physical activity. That’s the daily bread. 

So, I want to talk about wellness thresholds, which is an idea by a doctor from the United Kingdom, Rangan Chatterjee. 

Threshold effect is the idea that we all have a personal level of things we can handle before we become unwell. You were born, let’s say, in perfect health and we can deal with multiple insults to our health – up to a point – and remain okay. The fact we don’t move very much, a job we don’t like, a relationship fall apart, lack of sleep, a diet that isn’t great. You might have a person come to the doctor and say that all was going great. All was fine and then I got a new boss and now I have an autoimmune disorder. But if you look at that person’s history you see, things were not alright. We are resilient and we can deal with lots of stressors, until we can’t. The straw that breaks the camels back is a misnomer. Sure, look at the last stressor that tipped you up, but there were lots of things that got you to that point.  Because there’s a whole host of things to look at in how you build your life. We can juggle one ball, two balls, three balls, but if you chuck that 4th ball at me, I’m going to drop all of them. Everything falls down. So don’t look for the one thing that it is. No one answer will help you. Of course we need a more holistic approach to improving our lives. It’s not about perfection, it’s about balance. Take the pressure off – it’s not a diet that’s perfect, or a gym routine that’s perfect that will fix everything. You just need something for your sleep and something for your stress levels, and try to be sure you are moving ENOUGH and your diet is good ENOUGH. You’ve heard the 30 minutes before bed, shut off all the tech, Or how 10 minutes of meditation will improve your life.  So, here’s my suggestion, although, looking at the people here today, you might already all be doing this: commit to 5 minutes of prayer a day if you aren’t already. That’s an easy one. You will sleep better and feel less anxious in your waking hours. This is accessible and achievable. Good health is much more than food. What works in our real lives? I don’t want to come across as a lifestyle blogger who has this all figured out and is doing all these things perfectly, who is now standing here and bossing all of you into doing these things, too. Done is better than perfect. Something is better than nothing.

People have very powerful attachments about why they do certain things. Sometimes you know that your choices aren’t good for you, or healthy, and you know that your choices are not serving you. Those “bad” choices on some level DO nourish you – if you are lacking something in an aspect of your life, you can feed those comfort path ways by eating a sugary treat or watching lots of netflix every day instead of alternating those hours with other hobbies. We know that on a deep emotional level that we need to take care ourselves. Is it a comfort food, or a social connection that will feed us in the long term? 

Food is a big thing. We have to eat every day to nourish ourselves. Give us THIS DAY our daily bread. We can’t re-eat the food we ate yesterday, and we can’t eat the food for this Thursday today. 

Documentary How to Cook Your Life Edward Espe Brown talks about the biscuits of today, and this is what he says. We pay a lot of money not to cook. Not to confront a potato. What am I going do with this? How am I going to cook it? And, when we do cook it, we have a tendency to want to turn it into something unlike itself. You know, I can’t make it taste like those McDonald’s french fries, no matter what I do. Now our whole sense of taste is skewed. I can make biscuits but they never come out right. I tried more butter, less butter different kinds of fats, with water, with milk, eggs, not eggs. I tried a lot of things and you know after 4 or five tries at biscuits and they aren’t coming out right, I thought right compared to what? I realized that when I grew up in my family we made pillsbury biscuits from a can – you have that can that you peel open or bang on the counter and twist out of the can and put them on the pan and bake them. You know what, maybe we ought to just taste the biscuits of today and see what they are like. So I made biscuits again and tried them again and it was so good. It was buttery and flaky and wheatey with whole wheat flour that tasted like the earth, like the sun, and like water. There’s poetry and the possibility of connection with other life in those biscuits. We try to make our lives look like cosmopolitan magazine or on sitcoms – who are those people? Why would you want to be like them, where you know, you have to have the right smile and the right clothes and then eventually you can fit in or something? Are we going to have some standard to measure up to, or can we be the biscuit of today? 

For different people, we need different things. Do what’s achievable. No perfection is needed in any of one these areas. Just a little something in this whole array of areas.

Food – people who are struggling with diet, remember – you just need enough for today. 

Movement – there are some people who neglect their bodies. Get outside and praise God for the sun and the flowers.

Sleep – is the most undervalued thing about health. If you aren’t prioritizing it, you probably aren’t getting enough. The majority of people who have sleep problems are doing something they don’t know is having an impact on their rest. Like being on screens before you go to sleep.

Relax; do something about your stress levels – 15 minutes for yourself – or 5 minutes of prayer as I suggested earlier, for you and you alone, not involving your smart phone, and you are not allowed to feel guilty about it. 

Be still in this modern life. It’s counter cultural and valuable to sit in silence and do nothing for a time.

The key to me is “give us this day our daily bread” – not tomorrow’s bread. We get up each day and start all over to do just what’s required of us in this day. 

One of the bible verses we heard earlier today said:

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

The message of my sermon is this: take care of yourself, because God loves you. Jesus told you to eat the bread of life, and to really do that well, I want to invite you to really get in there, every day and be deeply reflective about what your daily bread looks like.

 

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Dick Toll

July 22, 2018

Lessons:

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

There is not a person here who does not have the memory of being a part of a large crowd.  It may have been a sports event, it may have been a musical event, it may have been to hear the Beatles, Elvis Presley or any of the popular singers of today.  It may have been a political rally, it may have been a peace march, it may have been a candle light parade and on and on.

Reflect for a moment in your own mind and memory about a crowd you were in and bring back the feelings, emotions of that moment.

Pause,

Crowds are influenced by many voices.  Events are often staged in ways that help us to remember.

I personally can remember going to peace rallies and feeling the power of the speakers.  I have felt moved to act and to take something away from the crowd in order to help others as to what it meant to be a part of a peace march or a political rally or a musical event.

Crowds can empower people.  For good and for evil.  When I see pictures of Adolph Hitler rallying the crowds in Nazi Germany, I cringe the way we can be captured by evil. 

I have been aware at times that some people are in a crowd to cause disruption, and to bring about violence.  I can remember being frightened by observing police ready to fire tear gas canisters and wondering what to do. 

Crowds of people come together to influence the future….for themselves and for others.  Without crowds of people, whether it being a demonstration or lines of people waiting to vote in an election…it is important for us to gather and experience others in influencing the future.

Visualize for a moment the 12 disciples of Jesus who have been taking the message of Jesus to villages in the Galilee to tell people about this person who has become their mentor, friend, leader.  They are tired and weary.  Jesus decided to take them to a lonely place to rest up and be revived in spirit. 

They are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.  The word is out.  Jesus is going to the opposite shore.  And, by this time his reputation has somehow been established and those who have heard him in his teaching want to hear him again.  And those who have not heard him are eager to hear him and hear for themselves.

The Jesus Movement had begun.

The Jesus Movement had arrived.  Excitement and energy were flowing.

Jesus and his disciples could not go to a lonely place because the crowds followed them.  The crowds of people came from far and wide.

The disciples of Jesus had to feel the excitement of being with Him.  He was their friend, their teacher and their rabbi.  He was a reflection of the God that was very real to them, near to them…here he was teaching, healing, not afraid to stand up to critics, not afraid to speak out, not afraid to be a prophet, a true messenger of God.

His words captured people and they felt his presence and found healing in his presence.

What happened in the lesson today in Mark?

I suppose you might say a seed was being planted in the lives of people who were seeking hope for their future.  The reality of their lives was grim.  The Roman occupation and the fear they lived in took away the joy of living.

What did they have to live for?  Their religious leaders were colluding with the Roman authorities.  Who could they put their trust in?

The policies of Herod the King were policies that led to slavery and fear.  The hopeless were becoming more hopeless.

And, then a man by the name of Jesus was among them…one of their own…a man who claimed to know God, announced the Kingdom of God and presented to the people and let them know they were a part of the Kingdom of God in a way they had never heard.  He taught them about love, repentance, forgiveness and let them know they were loved by God, taught them how to listen to the Spirit, and let them know how important they were individually in the eyes of God.

Here was a man among them presenting the God of history breaking into their own lives and presenting to them the Kingdom of God as a present and future reality.  A relationship with the very one who had given them life…hope for the future…healing and the meaning of life…a way forward…a way that was not just an end but a beginning…precious moments of life being lived…love and action…a new reality.

The crowd listened…lives were changed.

Mom, dad, brother, sister, friend.  Let’s go and hear what he has to say…yes, we feel lost.  We have been betrayed by out leaders.  We are seeking.  But others are saying, “We are being found.”  Being found by this stranger, this prophet, teacher, healer, preacher, rabbi. 

Look into his eyes…touch him, hear him.

And the crowds kept coming.

One can only imagine the impact that Jesus had on the crowds but one thing is certain.

He made a difference in the lives of so many that they continued to follow him as long as they lived, well after his crucifixion and resurrection…well after he could have been forgotten.  He could have just become a memory of a special moment with the crowd.

But instead, he became a memory centered around his life, death and resurrection.  We are that same crowd today.  Listening to him, relating to his mysterious, powerful presence.  Hearing him again proclaiming his presence with us in the Eucharistic prayer. 

Yes, we are in that crowd.

Yes, we are being addressed personally to be his followers.

Yes, we are being healed in mind, body, and spirit.

Yes, we are in a large crowd of witnesses that have been touched by the Spirit to follow and become a part of what our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry likes to call “the Jesus Movement”.  Here we are in the crowd.

Yes, to the now.

Yes, to the future.

Yes, to Jesus.

Yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Dick Toll

July 15, 2018

Lessons:

Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

Today I want to address the subject of memories and reflections.  We are a people with many stories to tell and we always need to be able to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others.  First of all, I want to hold up the memory of Herod who was the king when Jesus was born.  The Herod we are hearing about today in the Gospel story was his son.  But, he had inherited all the traits of his father.  His father, Herod the Great, was a great builder but people feared him because of his cruelty.  He was very ambious and was a vassal to the Roman Empire for over 40 years, doing their bidding and holding on to his power.  He married 9 times and during his reign he executed his first wife and later on he executed 3 of his sons.  He was paranoid and unstable……so our memory of Herod is of someone who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, built Masada, built the Herodian and Caesarea along with many palaces and fortresses.  His tomb was discovered 20 years ago in the Herodian, which is a mountain fortress he built that today looks like a volcano, outside of Bethlehem and his history is being rewritten in the Israeli Museum.  His tomb was violated and destroyed apparently by those who were angry with him during his lifetime.  He had 2000 personal guards to protect him while he was King of Judea.  Herod was and remains a person who changed history by his building program.  But, his cruelty is the main memory that remains.

Secondly, I would like to address you today with my own memories and reflections on my beginning of ministry here at Grace Memorial in the years 1967 – 1970.  I have alluded to those years in past sermons and several have asked me to speak to them.

I was in seminary at the Church Divinity of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, from 1964 – 1967.  Each senior class would visit parishes throughout the Northwest in January of their senior year to promote and raise money for the seminary.  I was assigned to come to Grace Memorial in January of 1967.  I came and met people and told about the seminary on Sunday morning from this pulpit.  Bud Hewitt was the Senior Warden and Duane Alvord was the Rector.  I returned home to Berkeley and received a call that Grace wanted me to come back and bring my wife, Elaine, for a job interview.  I was scheduled to go to my diocese in New Mexico and Southwest Texas to take care of three missions 100 miles apart from each other.  I wanted to begin my ministry as an assistant to learn what to do before I got out on my own….so I said “yes” and came back to Portland to interview.  So, I moved to Portland….I did not know a soul.  It was exciting.  I did feel that God had given me the right place to begin my ministry.  We moved here after seminary concluded and I started work in July, 1967.  We moved into the corner house on Halsey as the Parish had purchased it recently.  We lived there for 3 years and both David and Sondi were born and baptized here at Grace Memorial.  I was ordained a Deacon at my home parish in Pecos, Texas, on June 29, 1967 and ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Carmen on January 10, 1968, here at Grace Memorial.

My job included 4 days a week at Grace Memorial working with young people, church school, and acolytes.  My Diocesan job was to spend two days a week working with setting up services in retirement homes, nursing homes and hospitals for Episcopalians, visit local jails, take tasks assigned by the Bishop with things he did not want to address, work with the Portland Council of Churches on minority issues, work with civil rights issues, etc, etc, etc.  My salary was $3,600 each year, plus housing.  By the end of two years, I realized I had two full time jobs.

The 1967 Convention of the Episcopal Church was in Seattle, WA and it was that convention that voted to allow women to be on church vestries and to allow women to be deputies to conventions.  Women’s ordination was beginning to be talked about.  Janet Graue was the first women on the Vestry at Grace Memorial and became treasurer.  Janet signed my first paycheck.  She attended my parish at St. John’s in Milwaukie and would come up on her birthday every year until she died at 105.  She would always tell the people she had signed my first paycheck.

It was also the 1967 Convention that started the process of changing the 1928 Prayer Book.  We began to have trial services of what became our new prayer book.

We started using the trial services at Grace Memorial and discussing the reasons for changes.

It was in April of 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I remember joining a silent procession with candles what was then Williams Avenue near Emanuel Hospital.  It is now Martin Luther King Street.  The country was in turmoil.  Grace Memorial was right on the edge of the intercity.  We were a congregation without anyone of color belonging to the parish.  Then one Sunday, a Black family by the name of Baugh showed up in the congregation.  The name, Ted Baugh, may ring a bell with some of you because he kept coming with his family and remained a member of St. Philips.  When I asked him about his choice to come to Grace Memorial he informed me that he felt called as a missionary to help white people to understand what was happening in the civil rights movement…..and so he did.  We had living room dialogs on the subject of racial discrimination, civil rights, and the differences of our various church beliefs.  We entered into this dialog with Augustana Lutheran, Central Lutheran, West Minister Presbyterian and Freemont Methodist that brought us together with youth programs as well. 

Robert Kennedy came to Portland in 1968 on his journey to run for President.  I along with 25 other clergy had breakfast with him at West Minister Presbyterian Church the day before he left for California.  He was assassinated during his visit in California.  The country was coming apart at the seams.  The Vietnam War was happening and getting worse.  Young people were fleeing to Canada to escape the draft and were sleeping in the parks and churches along their way.  I became the Chair of the Alienated Youth Program for the Portland Council of Churches.  My committee included Tom Walsh, from the now Walsh Construction Company and Neil Goldsmidt who had just graduated from law school and would become Mayor of Portland 6 years later.  My baptism by fire continued.

When I left to go for a year of chaplaincy training at Emanuel Hospital, I felt that I had really gotten a full dose of learning from the parish.  I was not sure about my calling to parish ministry and thought I was being called to hospital chaplaincy.  Bishop Spofford in Eastern Oregon asked me to come to Baker in 1971 and it was clear my calling was to parish ministry.  I served as a parish priest for 37 years before my retirement 15 years ago.  I give credit to Grace Memorial for launching me as a parish priest.

And now for my third memory and reflection.  The Episcopal Church finished its’ convention this past Friday.  I planned to attend and made plans months ago to attend.  I put off knowing where I would stay and then out of the blue I was contacted by a childhood friend who asked me to stay with him and his wife in Austin, Texas, where the convention was held.

I had not talked with Sam Williams for 60 years.  We grew up next door to each other, we played together, got in trouble together, our sisters were friends with each other, the relationship had been there all the time we were growing up.  Sam is 2 years younger and so I became something of a model for him as he told me last week.  His dad was always putting him down with, “Why can’t you be more like Dick Toll?”

And so last week was a week not only filled with memories and reflections from the church convention but with memories and reflections of growing up.  Sam became a helicopter pilot for the Navy at the same time I was ordained.  I did not know this but he often had to refuel in Pecos, my hometown, and would stay over with his family.  During that time, he would help with my mother in taking care of my dad who had had a serious stroke and was home in bed.  He would come over and help my mother put him in bed.  Memories like that in our knowing the same people and listening to memories of things I had forgotten, it was a wonderful time for both of us.

And so I want to leave you today with the memory and reflection of the Bible story and the cruelty of Herod and his son.

The memories and reflections of Grace Memorial, 1967 – 1970.

The memories and my reflections of last week with a friend I have not seen or spoken with in 60 years.

And, to remind you that whenever we worship together we are in a moment in time of memory and reflection of salvation history.  We listen to the Bible, sing songs written by people who often tell us of their faith through songs, and we remind ourselves of Jesus and the Last Supper as we enter into a moment of memory and reflection in the Holy Eucharist.  We remind ourselves where we come from and to whom we belong, to God and to each other.   Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

July 8, 2018

Lessons:

Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

 

Mr. Rogers is all over the news these days, all over social media these days. A big part of the catalyst for that is the new documentary about him, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It’s a film that I cannot wait to see. I’m leaving on vacation after this service – I’ll be back at Grace at the start of August – and seeing this movie is high on my time off to-do list. But my guess is that there is more at work than this documentary in drawing Mr. Rogers back into our shared consciousness.

I think that many of us have a sense that Mr. Rogers is a prophet for our time.

Like a number of you in this room, I grew up watching Mr. Rogers. He was a kind and steady presence in my life. The language that he used to describe our relationship – that  of “neighbour” – did and does feel right to me. I never met the man. But he feels in my memory, in my heart, like the good and simple and generous person who lived a few houses away from me.

My guess is that these characteristics – goodness and simplicity and generosity – are why so many of us are drawn back to Mr. Rogers right now. This is one of those times in our national discourse, in the glorious and hard experiment that we call America, when kindness and simplicity and goodness feel like they might be lost values. It is a time when we are wondering if we have forgotten what it might mean to trust one another, to assume the best of intentions in one another, to listen to one another, to be lovingly curious about one another. We are wondering, maybe we are afraid, that we no longer know how to interact not with the goal of winning but, rather, with the goal of mutual understanding or, maybe, with the goal of moving deeper into communion.

Communion is, I think, what David Brooks was trying to get at in his beautiful article about Mr. Rogers this week in the New York Times when he opined that Mr. Rogers taught us things that we “obvious and nonobvious.” Few things were more obvious and nonobvious that Mr. Rogers’ famous words, “I like you just the way that you are.” On their face, these words are a platitude, they are a cliché. But coming from Mr. Rogers, they were awesome, staggering, life changing. They were an exercise in communion.

A number of years ago, I read an article about Mr. Rogers, late in his life and visiting college campuses and saying to the students there, many of whom had once been his television neighbours, “I like you just the way that you are.”

It was not uncommon for those young people to begin weeping.

Maybe the words were obvious. But the person saying them was not obvious at all. And hearing them, these young people touched the holy for a minute. They touched the face of God. It’s hard not to weep when that happens.

My guess is that when Brooks speaks of something being obvious and nonobvious, he is trying to get at the same paradox that Richard Rohr is searching for when he says:

Transformed people transform people.

Rohr tells the story of Mother Theresa saying to people, “Jesus loves you.” Now there is an obvious statement, a statement that you and I have seen on more billboards and bumper stickers than we can count. It might even be more obvious than, “I like you just the way that you are.” But coming from Theresa, it was suddenly nonobvious, it was suddenly new, it was suddenly transformative. Like the young people on the college campus, folks would hear these words and, coming from Theresa, they were totally new. The tears would roll down their cheeks.

Today, in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, we hear the words that are carved into the steps of Grace’s courtyard:

My grace is sufficient for thee.

I’ve lost count of how many people have told me that they love those steps, they love walking into this place across the reassurance and the beauty of those words. They too are words that are obvious and nonobvious. They too are words that, if we allow them, might just transform us. Their promise is radical.

My grace is sufficient for thee. This is the amazing promise that we have enough. That we are enough. That we are loved enough. That we don’t need to become someone else or something else in order to be worthy of God’s love, in order to lead a full life, in order to shine. These words are a paraphrase, another way of saying, “Jesus loves you.” They are another way of saying, “I like you just the way that you are.”

What would happen if we were to believe those words? If our neighbours were to believe those words? How might we change? How might the world change?

The rest of my sermon is plagiarised directly from Mr. Rogers.

At least twice, near the end of his life, when he was addressing a large group of people, he would invite them to enter into silence and to remember the person or the people who had loved them into being. I’m going to invite us to do the same thing today. Remember in silence the person or people who took and interest in you, who encouraged you, who allowed you to be the person who is sitting in this room right now.

I’ll keep time.

[Silence.]

Think how pleased that person or those people would be to know that they had made such a big difference in your life. These are the people who, whether or not they used these exact words, said to you: Jesus loves you. They are the people who said to you: God’s grace is sufficient for you. They are the people who said to you:

I like you just the way that you are.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

July 1, 2018a

Lessons:

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

Psalm 30

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Mark 5:21-43

 

Today, Mark gives us a story about holy interruption. Or maybe I should pluralise that: Today, Mark gives us a story about holy interruptions. I count no fewer than six interruptions. Maybe there are more. With each interruption, I am going to suggest a possible lesson. Not the only lesson, but a possible one.

Interruption Number One. Jesus crosses the sea to the other side and there he encounters a crowd. Jesus before a crowd; if you have spent any amount of time reading the Bible then you know this story well enough to be able to predict what will come next. This is the moment when Jesus will begin to tell parables, to cast out demons, to feed the hungry, to heal. But Jesus is interrupted. Interrupted by Jairus, by a leader of the synagogue, a man of status and power. Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet and begs.

Please.

Please. My little girl is at the point of death. Come lay your hands on her so that she may be made well.

And so Jesus goes.

A possible lesson. It Richard Rohr who says: Jesus always goes towards the pain. Healing is his priority. Being with the suffering is always his priority. Jesus is not a harried bank teller or an overscheduled professional, too busy to get you into his day planner. When you and I say to Jesus, Come with me, I am hurting, or Come with me, the one I love is hurting, Jesus’ answer is always Yes.

As Jesus walks towards Jairus’ house, the crowd follows and grows and presses in him. Zoom in the camera on a woman. For twelve years – a number heavy in symbolism, think of the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles – the woman has endured much under many physicians. Like many people in America today, she has been bankrupted by healthcare costs. She has spent all that she has on doctors’ bills, but has gotten no better, only worse.

She touches Jesus’ garment.

And Jesus stops.

Interruption Number Two.

Who touched me? he says. It is an absurd question. Jesus is in the middle of a crowd, this is a scene like trying to get out of a stadium after a football match, he is pressed into by people on his every side. But Jesus notices the power go out of him.

A possible lesson. If we take it seriously, this moment in the story has a pretty shocking takeaway. We are used to the formulation Jesus saves, Jesus heals, Jesus forgives. We are used to a formulation in which the name “Jesus” is followed by a verb, in which has agency, in which he chooses to do good works. In this story, there is a startling absence of choice on Jesus’ part. The woman is healed even though Jesus didn’t choose it. He didn’t even notice her before she touched his cloak. But she is healed nonetheless.

I have heard theologians say – and there is a double negative coming up here, so listen closely – that God cannot not forgive. God, who is love, always forgives. Forgiveness is who God is.

Maybe Jesus cannot not heal.

Let’s stay in this moment for Interruption Number Three, maybe the most obvious interruption of them all. The woman touches Jesus’ cloak, or as Sam Cooke once sang, she touches the hem of his garment. And instantly the hemorrhage stops, the flow of blood is stopped.

A possible lesson. I’m least sure about this one, but let’s try it out together. Could the hemorrhage, the blood be a symbol of violence? Just like you and me, the woman is a member of a collective, a crowd, a culture, a tribe, a country. And there are times when the tribe to which we belong engages in cruelty and violence, when we are implicated in that cruelty and violence even if we do not participate directly. The confession that we are saying together in the season of Pentecost, right now, goes like this:

We repent of the evil that enslaves us,

the evil we have done,

and the evil done on our behalf.

Sometimes morality, sometimes faith, means stepping out of our tribe. Sometimes it means risking setting aside the privilege and safety and anonymity that comes of remaining in the crowd. Sometimes morality and faith requires us to risk reaching out to Jesus. Sometimes that is the only thing that will stop the bloodshed.

Interruption Number Four. The woman is healed, the woman steps out of the crowd, and full of fear and trembling, she falls before Jesus.

And Jesus does not say to her, Glad that I could help. Nor does he say, It was nothing. Nor does he say, Don’t thank me, thank my Dad. Jesus says:

Daughter, your faith has made you well.

A Possible Lesson. Somehow, faith itself has the capacity to make the woman well, faith itself is healing. Now, I want to be careful here. I don’t mean that if you believe hard enough or well enough you will stop having cancer and start being rich. That is destructive nonsense. It is destructive nonsense which here in America we know by the name of the Prosperity Gospel. It is a heresy that makes God into a used-car salesman, selling health and wealth and a ticket into heaven in return for the payment of our belief. What I mean is something more mysterious, harder to quantify than that. What I mean is that there is healing in faith itself.

The theologian James Alison says that we often misunderstand faith. That we make it about frantically following rules, about creating borders, about calling out people who are doing the wrong things, who are believing the wrong things, about feeling terribly guilty. But faith, Allison says, is actually about relaxing. Faith is about being with God, being with someone whom we trust, with someone who knows us absolutely and, as Mr. Rogers used to say, likes us just the way that we are.

That sounds like healing to me. Your faith has made you well.

Interruption Number Five. Jesus stops and he talks to the woman. I have children, I cannot even imagine how anxious Jairus is getting right now. Picture Jairus as Jesus stops his progress and turns to talk to this person who has fallen down before him. Picture Jairus dancing from one foot to another, his fists unclenching and unclenching, picture him whispering under his breath, “Come on! Jesus, come on!”

A Possible Lesson. There is a scandal here. A man of power and wealth is made to wait for an impoverished woman. A woman, what’s more, whose hemorrhage, whose flow of blood makes her ritually unclean. What is being interrupted here – by Jesus, by the woman to whom he gives his full attention – is not just Jesus’ journey to Jairus’ house. What is being interrupted is patriarchy, it is economic privilege, it is a societal system that values some human beings more than others. In this instant, Jesus and the woman embody what Jesus will say elsewhere: The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Interruption Number Six. Some people come from Jairus’ house and, in what makes a case for being the cruelest two sentences ever spoken in scripture, they say, Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?

But Jesus says to Jairus, Be not afraid. Believe.

And he goes to Jairus’ home where Jairus’ little girl lies on the bed, surrounded by mourners. Jesus asks why they are weeping, says that she is not dead but sleeping.

And they laugh at him.

Jesus puts them all outside. (I love the brevity of that sentence. What words or actions do you suppose Jesus uses to put the laughing mourners outside?) And he says to the girl:

Get up.

And she does.

A Possible Lesson. When we are with Jesus, even death is interrupted. This is the lesson of his life. It is the lesson of the cross, it is the lesson of then empty tomb.

A short story interrupted no fewer than six times. Each interruption takes us further into possibility, into faith, into compassion, into love. Each interruption takes us into resurrection. May Jesus interrupt your life and mine in the same way.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Corbet Clark

June 24, 2018

Lessons:

Job 38:1-11
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

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I’m always intrigued when public figures quote sacred scripture to support some political policy, and there was an example of this the last couple of weeks. As you’re probably aware, the Attorney General of the United States used some verses from Paul’s Letter to the Romans to justify the policy of separating immigrant families at the border. I don’t want to spend time on the policy itself, which seems so contrary to basic teachings of both Judaism and Christianity and such a violation of common human decency, that it doesn’t bear further comment. But I would like to think a bit about the use of the passage from Romans 13, as well as more generally how we, as people of faith, approach an understanding of scripture as a whole.

The section of Romans that the Attorney General referenced is well known: it’s the passage where Paul writes that Christians should be obedient to government authorities, because they are ordained by God, so that disobeying them would be disobeying God. The use of this passage has a long and troubled history in our own country. During the Revolutionary War, guess who was quoting these verses? It was the British authorities, telling the revolutionaries that they were going against God by rebelling against the crown. The response of the Americans was that, well, but Paul only meant obedience to legitimate authority, and since the authority of the British in America was not legitimate, Americans didn’t have to obey. Problem solved.

But of course, the much more problematic use of these verses was during the slaveholding era in America, when slaveholders constantly referenced Romans 13 to attack those who sought to undermine slavery – abolitionists, helpers on the underground railroad, those who refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Slaveholders also made frequent reference to Biblical passages that condone slavery and counsel obedience of slaves to masters.

Taking a snippet from a piece of writing (whether the Bible or something else) to support an argument that one has already decided on is called “proof-texting.” It doesn’t seek to understand the broader context of a passage, it simply tries to use a short piece of text as a weapon to attack or refute someone’s else’s argument. It’s something that people of all political and theological persuasions do often. But I would suggest it’s not how Christians are meant to think about scripture and how it speaks to us.

So how should we be thinking about scripture and what’s the best use of it in our lives? I would start by pointing out the obvious – that the Bible is a very large compendium of a variety of different kinds of writings, by many different authors, composed over a period of a thousand years or so. Understandably, there are parts of it that we may find more appealing and helpful than others. We might favor the gospel stories about Jesus and turn away from the Old Testament stories of wars and violence. But I think if we really want to be faithful to the Bible, we have to read and ponder all of it, not just bits and pieces. The relationship between God and humans is complex and sometimes ambiguous, and the broad range of sacred writings induces us to keep exploring that complicated relationship.

Each book in the Bible has its own integrity and deserves to be treated as a whole. For many years I have taught a course at school on the gospels and the origins of Christianity. One of the first things I have students do is read a gospel straight through from beginning to end. Most students, even church-going ones, have never done that – they’ve only heard the gospels in short readings. They are often amazed to realize that each gospel has a coherence and some clear themes that the author intends in telling the story. They wonder why there should be four gospels, because they are all different from one another, with different emphases. Each gospel, for example, has a different set of resurrection stories – and Mark doesn’t have any, only the empty tomb. When the New Testament was assembled, didn’t people realize there were all these differences? Of course. Each gospel has a unique perspective that helps us get at the truth about Jesus. There is no one way to understand Jesus.

The scriptures are full of contradictions and passages that seem ambiguous and mysterious. It’s possible to disagree about how to understand them. I think God wants us to grapple with these difficulties to go deeper into the truth. In the rabbinic tradition, one rabbi has one interpretation of a passage and another rabbi has a different one, and they argue with one another. It’s precisely at the intersection of competing interpretations that we gain true insight.

It’s tempting to edit parts of the Bible we don’t care for, and I would suggest it’s precisely those parts we don’t care for that we need to pay attention to and try to understand. Psalm 137 is one of my favorites and a very familiar one. It’s a lament of the exiles in Babylon. It begins “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept…” and goes on to express sadness at the loss of their home. It’s very poignant. But towards the end it turns into an attack on their Babylonian captors; “Blessed is the one who takes your children and dashes them against the stones!” We don’t usually read that verse in church. But we shouldn’t avoid it. It expresses emotions of anger and bitterness and desire for vengeance, that are a real part of the human experience and that we have to learn to grapple with in order to understand ourselves.

We also need to understand that each book in the Bible has its own historical and cultural context, different from our own. As an example, Jewish society in Jesus’ time, like Roman society, was very patriarchal. Women had few rights and abuse of women was often condoned or overlooked. When we read passages in the scriptures that seem to justify poor treatment of women, I don’t think we can just say, okay, we just have to accept that. We must be willing to wrestle with how to make sense of such passages in the context of our own culture and social understanding.

Finally, as we try to understand the voice of God in scripture, we know we also have the voice of the Spirit within us, and in some sense we can engage in an inner dialogue, through reading and study and meditation, to allow the scriptures to speak to us. The voice of scripture and the voice of Spirit. That inner dialogue will lead us to new understandings. We should always be willing to entertain new insights, to be ready to change our minds about what scripture is telling us. This is part of what it means to be growing in faith, so that faith itself becomes a dialogue with the voice of God.

If we can spend time to really engage with the sacred writings, if we can grapple with the hard parts, be open to new insights and understandings, then we can hope to truly hear the voice of God in the scriptures.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost by The Rev. Martin Elfert

June 17, 2018

Lessons:

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4,11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10,[11-13],14-17
Mark 4:26-34

 

One of the gifts of this past week at the College for Congregational Development was spending part of an afternoon with the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. (Those of us who went on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land will remember that we also ran into Bishop Curry in Jerusalem. I am beginning to suspect that Bishop Curry is following me around.) We had the opportunity, as a group, to ask him questions. And so I put up my hand and said something like this:

You have witnessed and endured a lot of unfair things in your life, a lot of unjust things. And yet you appear to be a joyous person. Why is that? What is the source of your joy?

Bishop Michael thought for a good length of time before speaking. And then he told us that part of his joy came from the people who raised him and with whom he grew up – he spent his early life with people who loved neighbour and loved life, and he caught that love from then. And then he said that another part of his joy came from scripture. We laugh with Jesus, he said, and then we cry, and then we laugh again. And then we go to the cross and we weep. And then that Mary Magdalene tells us that the tomb is empty. And we meet the resurrected Jesus and we laugh once more.

Listening to Bishop Michael talk about the Bible I was reminded of the old preacher who said that the reason he was so full of joy was that he had read the story and he knew how it ended.

That encounter with Bishop Michael was one of those holy coincidences that the Holy Spirit keeps on putting into my life and, maybe, into yours as well. Because hearing a spiritual leader talk about joy in spite of hard news, in the midst of hard news: well, that felt pretty timely this week.

The news coming from our southern border is awful. The news of children being taken from their parents by the agents of our country is appalling. Our nation is telling parents that they are taking their children to bathe them and then not bringing those children back. Our nation is deliberately causing the suffering of children, it is weaponising the suffering of those children. And then the leaders of our nation are citing the Bible to justifying that suffering.

Here is Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

There are two words for using the Bible in this fashion. (Actually, there are more than two words, but there are only two words that I can say in church. One of the other words I am not going to say has to do with bulls and what they what they sometimes leave in a field after a big meal.) The first word that I am allowed to say is proof texting: this is the habit of pulling a verse of scripture out of its context and away from scripture’s wider arc towards love and justice in order to back up your argument.

Romans 13, by the way, has an infamous history of being used in this fashion. This is the passage pointed at by slaveholders to justify the practice of owning other people. This is the passage cited in Nazi Germany to justify a brutal dictatorship. This is the passage cited in South Africa to justify apartheid. (There is a fantastic article in Washington post, by the way, that walks you through some of the history of folks defending their society’s wildly immoral actions by pointing at Romans 13.) Suffice to say, when you draw on this passage on an occasion such as this one, you’re not in such hot company.

There is a second word for using scripture in this fashion, for recruiting to sculpture argue that the state has God’s blessing to separate children from their parents and store them in a box store turned prison. A good number of people have said that word on Twitter. I’m going to say that word this morning.

That word is blasphemy.

Let’s do some Bible study. Let’s see what else scripture might have to say here. (And I am hugely indebted to my friend Heather for assembling most of these verses.)

Hebrews 13:2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.

Zechariah 7:10: Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor.

Leviticus 19:33–34: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

James 1:27: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress…

Matthew 22:37–40 (This is Jesus talking now, our Lord and Saviour): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

On these two commandments hang everything. One more (and this is nowhere close to an exhaustive list – this is kind of a huge theme in scripture) before we get back to Romans 13:

Matthew 25:34–36: Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

What is that passage called, by the way? Does anyone know? This is the Judgment of the Nations. Jesus says that this is what we together will be judged for, for what our nation does. This is how we will inherit the Kingdom, by welcoming the stranger.

But what about Romans 13 itself?

Paul writes in a rhetorical style that is pretty foreign to us. It is one of the things that can make his letters a hard read and sometimes an opaque read. He may not always mean what he appears to mean on first reading. For the sake of argument, however, I am going assume that Paul means pretty much just what he appears to mean in the letter. He is saying: Hey recipients of my letter in Rome, you should obey the law.

What is vital to understand here is that this letter is what scholars call situational. It is written by Paul to a particular group of people in a particular time of place. And the group to whom Paul is writing is comprised of Christians who are living under the boot of repression and brutality, who are enduring state-sponsored violence. He is saying to them: Obey the Roman’s law so that you don’t get yourself killed.

This is a letter, in other words, written as consolation and encouragement and advice to people who are living under oppression. It is a not a letter extending permission for the oppressor to do whatever evil it sees fit, so long as it passes a law first. If there is any question about that, then let’s keep on reading in the same chapter. Romans 13:

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Maybe in light of the news from the border and the distortion of the Bible that we have heard in response to it, my question to Bishop Curry should’ve been different. Maybe what I should have asked is not, “given everything you have witnessed, everything that is going on in the world, how do you remain joyous?” but rather, “given everything you have witnessed, everything that is going on in the world, is it appropriate to be joyous?”

Today is the day at Grace on which we honour the choir. The choir which serves so faithfully across the fall, winter, and spring. Its members are here every Thursday night and every Sunday morn. If St. Augustine is right and those who sing pray twice, then the choir has doubled the amount of prayer in this room.

That is something for which to say thanks.

On an occasion such as this, when we name and say thanks for the presence of beauty in our midst – when we name that we are putting our time, talent, and treasure into beauty – sometimes you will ask a question of yourself or someone else will ask a question of you. And that question goes like this:

Given all that is wrong in the world, where are you putting resources into beauty? Why are you putting resources into joy? (For the purposes of this sermon, I am going to use the words “beauty” and “joy” more or less interchangeably.)

Think how many hungry people we could’ve fed by putting resources into food instead of installing stained glass windows or repairing a the organ. Why are we wasting our time with beauty and joy?

That’s a question that we need to take seriously. I’ve thought of at least two answers. The first is that beauty, that joy is a source of holy energy for us. Sometimes anger is a catalyst into action – when you hear about what is happening on our southern border, it is appropriate and motivating to be angry. But my experience is that if I get stuck in anger, I end up embittered and cynical. I don’t act at all.

Part of the reason that I come to church and seek out beauty is that this is a place in which I refill my reservoir. That refilling allows me to participate in justice, in compassion.

The other reason that putting resources into joy matters is that doing so reminds us of what the Kingdom looks like. The delight and experience and communion we experience here in church – that is what life is supposed to look like. We come here to remember what God wants for all us of, including refugees and migrants. Part of what church does is to give us a point of reference so that, when we see the news, we can look at it and say: That’s wrong. That’s not the way that people deserve to live.

Dostoyevsky was right when said, Beauty will save the world.

Today we hear one of a number of Gospel readings about the scattering of seeds. I think that these readings are funnier than we sometimes allow. In all of them there is this element of incompetence in the sower: the seeds are scattered all over the place, on rocky ground and on good soul; or in this case, the seeds are scattered by someone who is ignorant, who watches the seeds grow but doesn’t know how.

I wonder if these stories mean that the Kingdom is without limits, that God shares it broadly, that nowhere and no one is off limits, that even those places where you think the seeds ought not to go, there too God sows.

Or maybe these stories mean that, when the seed lands on the rock, you and I have the job of moving it to the soil. Maybe these are stories about our role as co-creators of the Kingdom.

We encounter joy in the choir, in Art Camp, in one other. That joy invites us to go forth and participate in building up the Kingdom of God.